Immigration is a tricky subject here in Australia. I’ve written about it at Feministing before, and the more I think about it, the more similar the Australian and America conversations about immigration sound.
This is probably because historically speaking, there are many similarities between Australia and the US. Both are nations rooted in colonialism, founded by white immigrants, peopled and made wealthy by the efforts of both white and non-white immigrants. Both are nations with a hotly contested contemporary conversation about immigration.
In both countries, the language people use to talk about undocumented immigrants is degrading and dehumanizing, which of course is deliberate; if you don’t talk about them like they’re actual people, you don’t have to think about them like they’re actual people, and you can justify treating them like they’re less than actual people.
Over the Easter weekend, about a hundred protestors gathered outside the Villawood Detention Center outside Sydney, as a part of a national day of protest against Australia’s current immigration policy. Right now, thousands of people who have come to Australia seeking asylum are housed in detention centres, unaccompanied children among them.
Refugee Action Coalition spokesman James Supple says the protest shares support in the community.
“We think it’s very important that protests like this happen to break down some of the isolation and hopelessness that people inside detention feel, and to bring a message that there are substantial numbers of people in the community that would rather see them welcomed,” he said.
Watching the news footage of the protest, I was happily surprised to see that one woman was holding a sign that said, “No one is illegal.”
Colorlines’ campaign to get people to “drop the I-word” uses that very language, and I was really pleased to see that it has made its way over here. The Australian discourse about immigration, like the American one, is ugly. Where Americans call undocumented immigrants “illegals” or “aliens,” here you’re more likely to hear the term “the boats,” a dehumanizing shorthand for “boat people,” especially from politicians.
It makes sense, then, that Australian supporters of immigrant rights would borrow from American tactics.
And while that particular language is perfect for a picket sign, it’s good to remember that the approach we should be taking to asylum seekers is written into our national anthem, in slightly longer and more poetic form: “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.”
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